April 28, 2008

The buzz on seasonal, local eating

I remember hearing my grandma or grandpa tell me about how at Christmas time they would get an orange in their stocking and how big a deal this was given the lack of fruit (other than canned) during the Midwest winters. Oranges, like many other seasonal fruits and vegetables, used to be just that, seasonal. So what has happened? Why is it that nowadays it doesn’t matter if it is winter or summer, one can always find a ripe tomato or a melon at a grocery store? We are fortunate (or maybe unfortunate??) to live in a free market economy where an abundant food supply at low cost is consistently made available to us. We Americans love variety – especially when it comes to food – but maybe it is time for a shift back to the “oranges in the stocking” era.

(Side note – This blog was inspired by a book I just read by Michael Pollan, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A natural history of four meals”). In Pollan’s book, he tells a story about a farmer who sells his eggs (from chickens that are free range and eat grubs left behind from cow pies found in the grass from cows that are pastured) to local restaurants. Eggs will vary from season to season if a chicken is not fed solely on chicken feed and does not live in a cooped up container. Some seasons produce better yolks and others better whites. When the farmer first began selling eggs to chefs, he found himself apologizing to one of the restaurant owners for their pallid hue in the winter months. The chef told him not to worry because during cooking school in Switzerland he’d been taught recipes that specifically called for April eggs, August eggs, and December eggs. Until I read this book, I had no idea that eggs from a chicken could vary from season to season. (Or, better stated, that eggs from a chicken should vary from season to season).

Our global food market allows us to eat whatever we want year round. And I’m not just talking about fruits and vegetables. According to Pollan, pastured animals can be harvested only after they’ve had several months on rapidly growing grass. Feeding animals corn in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) has accustomed us to a year-round supply of fresh meats. People used to eat most of their beef and pork in late fall or winter, when the animals were fat and eat chicken in the summer. Nowadays, we can eat corn fattened beef year round.

Ok, so what does it matter? What/who does it really hurt if I buy asparagus in the winter and can find ripe tomatoes year-round? First, buying locally and eating seasonally provides a sense of security that comes from knowing that your community, or country, can feed itself. Other reasons to eat locally include preserving the beauty of agricultural landscape (come on, how “pretty” are those giant CAFOs??); the satisfaction of buying food from a farmer you know rather than the supermarket; the fact that local food doesn’t have to travel miles and miles to arrive to your plate; and because by buying locally and eating seasonally, you decide not to participate in the industrial food chain powered by fossil fuel. (One fifth of America’s petroleum consumption goes to producing and transporting our food.) By eating locally, you also make a decision to not take part in America’s big food industry – the advertising, the lobbyists, the profits made from “supersizing” our meals, etc. Plus if you start eating locally, you will make a conscience change to eat better (you won’t find any processed food or frozen meals at your local farmer’s market)!

Eating locally, as Pollan points out, doesn’t necessarily mean it will be organic or even sustainable because there’s nothing to stop a local farmer from using chemicals or abusing animals except the good word (accountability) of his customers. I would think, however, that being accountable to your community members is a much better deterrent for being honest on your growing practices than not having a clue in whose mouth the food you grow and produce will end up.

Ok, so I may sound a little “preachy” and I apologize for that. I’ve got a long way to go until I can follow my own advice but this is the direction I am moving in. Living in Honduras has forced Luke and I to eat seasonally more so than we did when we were living in the States. Last year, I started making a list of what fruits and vegetables were in season when and this year it has been fun to anxiously wait each season. Having less available also makes our meal choices easier. Many volunteers have expressed fright at returning to the States after a two-year term with the PC and being utterly overwhelmed by the options that a US supermarket has to offer.

One of our goals upon returning to the States is to make a better effort at eating locally and seasonally. Among these goals is to grow and produce as much of our own food as possible. It doesn’t get any more “local” than that! Gardening in and of itself is so rewarding and it reduces your waste by turning your throw-away scraps into compost. I used to help my mom can and freeze vegetables and fruit during the summer months when fresh produce is plentiful and this is something I’m hoping to start when I get back. See below for pics of our garden in here in Honduras.

Our front yard garden as of Sunday, April 27
Our variety of lettuces and leafy greens that we planted during rainy season (October - January)


Interesting websites I’ve found from magazine articles and books:

For an interesting article on our carbon footprint and what we can do see:


Dory said...

Annie, I love your preachy self-sustainability talk! It's like my sewing preachiness, and good for you for THINKING about these things, rather than mindlessly going throuhg life. I love that you ask tough questions and when you find out honest answers you endeavor to live by your findings, even if that's not easy. Of course there will always be the day where you just have to have a BigMac (or, maybe just have an unseasonal orange:), but we're only human right? There's been lots of talk here in Portland, as I'm sure in other parts of the country, about eating locally and seasonally. In another week or two, we will start getting our weekly produce from a local farm that does a distribution at the farmers market. We'll be splitting it with my mom, as it's a lot of produce, and it will be a surprise each week... I can't wait!
By the way, COOL GARDEN!! I remember when your picture was just dirt!! Way to go!

Anonymous said...

Your garden does look beautiful! I also remember the dirt and other misc. objects. I still use the seasonal cookbook you gave me. It is also fun when introducing Lila to new foods to do so seasonally! Dory, I would love to hear your "sewing preachiness".